A wiz on the black board, Kyle Shanahan comes to the 49ers known for his offensive ingenuity. The long-time NFL offensive coordinator has already rubbed off on this team, bringing in players with specific skill sets, installing his renowned system and demonstrating above-average functionality early in preseason.
With everything in place, San Francisco is legitimately expecting progress and potential breakouts on the offensive side of the ball.
Looking at candidates—their positions, their years in the league, what they’ve done or haven’t done—it’s easy to keep circling back to Carlos Hyde. And the running back has garnered a lot of positive attention after some early offseason doubt. It’s now looking more likely that he’ll have a strong year if healthy and involved. But another player to keep an eye on is free-agent signee and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
This is a player that has been operating at another speed than everyone else in training camp, and has looked uncoverable at times.
To many, this is very surprising, considering he only accrued 780 receiving yards over four seasons with the Bills. That said, he also missed 25 games over that span and only made 10 career starts, while playing in a frigid and offensively handicapped Buffalo. Now in the Bay Area, the 26-year-old Olympic track star is healthy and appears to be developing as an NFL pass catcher.
And there’s a starting receiving role there if he wants it.
Signs of a breakout
To zero in on the difference, in practice and in games, Goodwin is visibly evolving from the straight-line speedster that only gets vertical; he’s making defenders guess where he’s going as he runs to all areas of the field, and in all different ways. In Buffalo’s offense, the speed was predominantly used to eventually get him over the top of the cornerback and open for a long touchdown.
What Shanahan is doing is harnessing the quickness aspect of it, by having Goodwin challenge the agility, route recognition skills and reaction speed of defenders, in order to find space. This also creates a safe throw for the quarterback and prospective yards after the catch. In his fifth year, he’s now becoming more of a technician than a one-trick pony.
“I’m constantly evolving as a receiver," Goodwin told reporters, according to the team’s official website. "Each day I come out, I do what I’m told, I fix the little things that I need to, and it’s continuing to show.”
And it’s not just Goodwin seeing results, it’s everyone.
The 49ers recently had practices against arguably the best secondary in football in the Denver Broncos. And Goodwin drew rave reviews. USA Today writer Rob Lowder reported that Goodwin had All-Pro cornerback Aqib Talib “spinning in circles” on a slant route in the joint session.
Tim Kawakami of The Athletic echoed the positive sightings, noting, “One 49ers (wide receiver) that seemed to get open semi-regularly vs. Denver’s DBs: Marquise Goodwin. He can fly & hasn’t dropped anything that I’ve seen.”
Nick Wagoner of ESPN pegged the wideout as "Camp MVP," writing, "From the first practice to the last, Goodwin was the Niners' most consistent playmaker," while also noting that his performance in the joint practice with Denver was the validation he needed before Week 1.
After visiting Santa Clara, national reporter Mike Garafolo discussed the offense on NFL Network and singled out Goodwin, saying, “He’s got the blazing speed obviously. And they do believe—I was talking to (general manager) John Lynch during practice, we were kind of kicking stuff around, he said, ‘The one thing you know about Kyle Shanahan that you know you’re going to get, he knows how to capitalize on a guy’s speed.'
“He knows how to feature the speed . . . Maybe you haven’t seen it so well in Buffalo over the years, but they really do believe that this guy now is going to be this weapon.”
The reviews from media of Goodwin have remained consistent, and the overall belief in Shanahan's system continues to breathe life into the narrative. But perhaps the person that knows better than anybody is the man throwing to Goodwin: 49ers starting quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Having worked with high-caliber receivers in Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, Larry Fitzgerald, Josh Gordon, DeAndre Hopkins and Alshon Jeffery, it’s fair to say Hoyer knows what a good receiver looks like. And he expressed in camp that he’s a believer.
“I think (Goodwin can be special),” Hoyer said. “I really do.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with him . . . You talk about a hard worker; I was just out there with my family for 30 minutes and he’s still catching balls on the jugs and running up the hill,” the quarterback added. “When you see guys who are really talented that are willing to work that hard, they always have a chance to be something special.”
Media courtesy Icon Sportswire, SF Gate